SMT Quick Tip #2: How to Exploit Net Approachers

(Check out the point that begins at 4:56)

If you have a hard time countering your opponent’s net approaches, try to do what Stanislas Wawrinka does really well here. As Novak Djokovic approaches the net, Wawrinka throws in a short slice which catches Djokovic completely off guard.

As you can see, it is difficult for players who are approaching the net to effectively handle short balls because there is not much they can do to a ball that is low and very close to the net. The best option is to pop the ball up as deep into the court as possible, but that is pretty difficult to execute and if even properly executed, the ball is easily attackable. So what every player usually goes for instead is to hit it short back, and Wawrinka knew that Djokovic would do this from a mile away. As soon as Djokovic made contact with the ball, Wawrinka was already racing to the net to put that ball away. Basically, it is a win-win situation when you feed the ball low to net-approachers.

This tactic is very effective and should definitely be added to your game. You will surely begin winning more easy points when your opponent approaches the net!

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SMT Quick Tip #1 – Good Anticipation & Judgement

(Skip to the point at 0:24 where Stanislas Wawrinka serves out wide)

Anticipation is key. As soon as you see (or know) that your shot will yield a weak or short reply, you must capitalize on it! For instance in this video, Wawrinka knew without a doubt that his cross-court backhand would force a short return, so he quickly approached the net and put the ball away.

Having good judgement and anticipation like this will make your game more efficient; you will always be one step ahead of your opponent!

How did Stanislas Wawrinka Beat Djokovic in the French Open Final of 2015?

The atmosphere at the French Open this year was definitely peculiar, with Rafael Nadal falling to Novak Djokovic in the Quarter Finals. Literally, this is only the second time that Nadal has ever been defeated at this grand slam, so for the first time in six dominating years this tournament has crowned a new champion. That man is Stanislas Wawrinka, the Swiss player with arguably the best one-handed backhand in the game.

This championship match was a thrilling four-set match with both players displaying transcending tennis; however, how did Stanislas Wawrinka take the win over Novak Djokovic? His consistent and menacing power was a major key factor in defeating Djokovic. When one can produce blistering power from both wings, no doubt it will inflict an enormous amount of pressure upon his opponent. The fact that they were both playing on clay was only more advantageous for Wawrinka because the surface slows down the ball, allowing his groundstrokes to be fully setup.  This automatically put Djokovic at a disadvantage because it is apparent that Wawrinka yields more power in all of his strokes than Djokovic does. Not only did it help Wawrinka to properly setup for his shots, but due to the slow surface, he was better able to keep up with Djokovic’s phenomenal placement. So basically for Wawrinka to defeat Djokovic, he had to consistently apply pressure with his powerful strokes, especially off the one-handed backhand like he did at this year’s Australian Open in order to break down Djokovic’s incredible defense.

No one else can strike a backhand as consistently powerful as Wawrinka can.  Although he only hit eleven backhand winners, his backhand was an integral asset in debunking Djokovic’s rhythm – unlike most players, he can also comfortably and willingly change directions with this stroke. The down-the-line (DTL) backhand proved to be extremely effective, especially during set/ break point in the second set. On Wawrinka’s second-to-last shot, he pounded his backhand DTL which in turn yielded an unbalanced shot by Djokovic, almost stumbling. Totally thrown off rhythm by Wawrinka’s powerful DTL backhand, Djokovic’s focus diminishes and hits the next ball out.

Overall, Wawrinka’s ability to execute his vicious power this match is what led him to victory over the best player in the game right now. Djokovic practically has no weaknesses. Although this is true, he is no superhuman who can swiftly get to every ball on the court. All one has to do in order to put Djokovic in a troubling plight (all players in fact), albeit difficult to execute on a daily basis, is to hit face-paced shots. This along with his accurate placement, is what Wawrinka was able to successfully carry out in the whole match, which ultimately earned him the win. Remember that Wawrinka is not really consistent in his level of play throughout the year, but it is absolutely conspicuous that Stan the Man strives on slow surfaces. Congratulations to Stanislas Wawrinka for winning the 2015 French Open and his second grand slam.

Power On Our Groundstrokes

In today’s professional game, power in players’ strokes have become a paramount factor in determining their success/potential. Players are unable to apply pressure to their opponents without enough power. In fact, people who do not have enough power are the ones who are most likely to get pushed around. Being unable to produce power, hitting winners become more difficult and thus you end up having to rely only on your opponent’s errors in order to win points.

Power really adds another dimension to your game: being able to hit winners at will and applying enormous amounts of pressure onto your opponent at even unpredictable times – it just profoundly enhances your game and makes tennis less of a grind. However, of course, using power tends to strongly correlate with making errors but the benefits of possessing power greatly outweighs this con.

Take a look at Ferrer’s match with Djokovic at the Australian Open 2013 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EN4Q2zu4oyY). Compared to Djokovic, Ferrer has no real fire power. What makes things worse is that his ball speed never really changes and that is the reason why having power is so important. With power comes a larger range of gauging your ball speed. What makes gauging ball speed so advantageous is that your play becomes more unpredictable and the opponent will always be on his/her toes. Ferrer is a clear example of how damaging it is not changing ball speeds. Just look at Djokovic! Producing winners left and right, Djokovic throughout the whole match was in such a smooth balance and a fantastic rhythm. What makes it an even worse of a nightmare for Ferrer is that Djokovic can willingly power up his shots. It is just clear that Ferrer is always at a huge disadvantage going up against Djokovic, and the rest of the top guys.

On the other hand, Djokovic masterfully demonstrates why power is an important asset to be at the very top of the game. With power – whenever he sees an opening during the rally – he can end the point right then and there. Many instances during this match Djokovic would be hitting his typical rally-ball and then out of nowhere he will inject a lot of pace into the ball. As a result,  Ferrer will be caught completely off-guard and be put on the defensive. This is something Ferrer can not do as well as others. However, his fitness and machine-like consistency makes up for it – enough to keep him in the top 10 for many years now.

Although having power is not absolutely necessary, it’s an important dimension that can make points less physically burdening instead of having to grind out points continuously.

The Simple Truth of the Game of Tennis

People make out tennis to be a very complicated sport. If you think about it, it’s not at all complicated, but rather a simple game. Of course there are many elements pertaining to the sport such as: power, directions, the serve, the return, the groundstrokes, volleys, touch, footwork, mentality, defense, and offense. However, at the end of the day, the person who gets the ball back one more time than his opponent is the winner. All of these elements listed are just products that aid you in accomplishing this objective. The ones who understand this the most are probably defensive players. Their main strategy is to return as many balls back as possible while playing a very safe and consistent game. With incredible fitness, these guys are menacing.

Murray on defense

Andy Murray is a prime example of a defensive player with prodigious fitness. When you watch this guy, notice his tactics against most players; he plays a rather safe game, simply just trying to out-rally his opponent most of the time. The reason why he does this is because he possesses a great deal of stamina – he knows that he can outlast about 95% of the people on tour. Furthermore, take a look at Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. These guys’ defense are also out of this world. Of course the three are aggressive when they can be (especially Federer) but they grew up playing the game defensively. Look at where they are now; they reign at the top of the game because they developed this kind of foundation. They understand that at the end of the day, it is all about the person who gets one more ball back.

Obviously every player knows this but do they actually truly execute it? No, they tend to lean their interests towards hitting winners or looking flashy which makes them prone to making unforced errors. These are the guys who have their good days/streaks and bad days/streaks. The guys who reign at the top are hanging up there because they are the ones who are consistently able to get one more ball back than their opponents can.

Check out this match of Grigor Dimitrov v. Andy Murray at the 2015 Australian Open (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJH0hxrMCCc)

Notice how aggressive Dimitrov chooses to play in the first set. In the beginning he appears to be slaughtering Murray, hitting volleys past him and pummeling winners left and right. However, Murray still comes out on top in the first set because he’s the one getting the ball back one more time than Dimitrov does. In the second set, Dimitrov’s aggressive game varied in success throughout. At the beginning of the set, his aggressive game went against him, producing too many errors that put him down a break. Though, later in the set, his aggressive game began to pay off as he was able to win the set in the tie-break. Then, it began to become clear in the third set that Murray was the more consistent player with better timely controlled aggression compared to Dimitrov, winning the set 6-4. The fourth set was devastating. Dimitrov’s aggression in the beginning was on a roll, taking him up a break 5-2. However, once again Dimitrov was not able to keep this level of play up as Murray breaks back and soon afterwards at 5-5, Dimitrov concedes the break to Murray with a heartbreaking double fault. Up 6-5, Murray ends this match with a 6/4 7/6 6/4 7/5 victory. Watching this match just shows that aggression is only a factor of the answer and that getting one more ball back than your opponent is the answer. If someone is able to get to every ball and return every shot, then that person would be virtually impossible to defeat.

The men who know best right now

Why Do I Like Tennis?

Why do people like tennis? Unfortunately, I could not come up with reasons that could generalize for the entire community so I altered the question and changed it to, “Why Do I Like Tennis?”

If you are a perfectionist like I am, then you will probably take a liking for tennis, considering the many, many techniques there are to master. For example, we have the two groundstrokes which are the forehand and the backhand. While they are both classified under the same category “groundstrokes,” they are not exactly identical in terms of technique. The forehand is hit with the dominant arm and the core is what does the swinging; whereas the backhand  – while the core is utilized the same way – is strict on requiring that your dominant arm is straight upon contact. For the two-handed backhand, the core is still similarly used; however, obviously this stroke requires the proper usage of both arms. Furthermore with groundstrokes, there are heaps of sub-skills that you need to or naturally learn as you become more advanced such as the running forehand/backhand and the lasso-whip forehand. Besides the groundstrokes, there are also the serve, the smash, the volley, and the footwork. The vast and maybe infinite amount of techniques there are to master is what makes this sport so enjoyable to me, and probably for many others as well. The sport feels like it’s never ending, for there is always a particular skill to improve in your game.

I also really enjoy that the sport can be played singly. While I do enjoy playing team sports (basketball), I more prefer individual sports because in games, all of the weight are on your shoulders. You are out there on a battle with yourself and the person across the net, mentally and physically. I covet witnessing myself overcome mental obstacles and knowing the extent to which I can last physically. Whatever happens at the end, there is no one else to blame but yourself. You look to fix that by analyzing what went wrong and figuring flaws out with your coach on the practice court. With the aspect that tennis is played individually, you really learn a lot about your own capabilities and how strong you carry yourself as a person.

Andy Murray is well known for his forehand to be extremely loose and neutral of the wrist.

While the core fundamentals are the same for all high-level players, each of them always have a touch about his/her stroke (usually on the backswing) that differs them from others which is also another reason why this sport intrigues me greatly. For example Richard Gasquet’s forehand (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wk_eCLU_qnU) has quite a wild and strange loop to it that almost makes it look like his forehand is at a continental grip when in reality, it’s at a semi-western grip. The way he hits it just seems so unconventional compared to the rest. Also, If you look at Grigor Dimitrov’s forehand (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3vfjOZuKJI), you will notice that every time after he turns his shoulders, he cheekily throws a peace-sign out as he extends his left arm.

Jeremy Chardy’s extremely cocked wrist on the takeback of his forehand is what greatly distinguishes him from the other players

I do not think anyone else on tour does this. Going to Andy Roddick, he’s known not only for his booming serve (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZC_uAGut9s) , but how distinct his serve looks; it’s a rather quick motion. It appears that he tosses the ball literally as he goes into the trophy position while others tend to toss the ball and then proceed to the trophy pose. All in all, from Federer’s graceful and elegant forehand (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71xnOPbmrUI)  to Nadal’s brutalizing and wicked forehand (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxmoF1qzouE) , it is evident that there is not one correct way of doing things in tennis and that each person who plays the sport will always have something perceptibly unique about their game. As a result, this always makes me wonder… what do I do that is unique from other players? In tennis, there is this sense of originality that is felt among players like no other sport. This is what makes tennis so interesting for me to watch and play.

There are many other reasons as to why I like tennis. However, the never-ending feeling in evolving your game, the sense of responsibility one bears on himself, and the distinctiveness the game creates among players are the main reasons why I love the game.

The Importance of Having a Transition and Net Game [Tennis Tactics and Efficiency]

Kei Nishikori

Many people tend to overlook volleys, deeming them not as important as groundstrokes. While that may be true, without a transitional net game, becoming successful on the tour or even in college is very difficult. Take UCLA’s Gage Brymer for example. Ranked one nationally and being a three time Ojai CIF champion, he was a phenom in the juniors. Many people expected him to play somewhere at the top of the line-up (Single’s 1 to 3) for UCLA because of his tremendous results in the juniors. However, he ended playing the number 4 or 5 spot. Why was this the case? If you watch Brymer’s matches when he was a junior and especially in college, notice how he rarely ever transitions to the net. His match with Mkrtchian (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qb6mFdhkHic) is a prime example of his reluctance to approach. In many instances throughout the match, he would hit a damaging shot that would force a weak return capable of being easily volleyed away, but what does he do? He remains at the baseline, and you can even tell that he gives it a thought before he makes the decision. Mkrtchian ends up winning this match. While part of the reason may be because Brymer’s baseline game was not at its usual level that day, Mkrtchian was the one who utilized his transitional net game to great effect. His groundstrokes are not as good as Brymer’s, but what places Mkrtchian at #2 or #3 singles is his ability to attack the net and seize good opportunities, efficiently ending points.

 

On the pro tour, it is inevitable that to be successful, players must have a transition game. Having that kind of efficiency not only expends less energy, but it also makes you more unpredictable. Without a doubt, the top four (Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, and Murray) are the most efficient players on tour. If they know one of their shots will yield a weak shot, they know immediately to begin transitioning up the court to take full advantage. A notable player who has improved this aspect of his game is Kei Nishikori. He has made a tremendous stride on the rankings, beginning at #20 in 2014 and ending the year in the top 5.

 

In his match against Tomic at Brisbane 2015, Kei Nishikori demonstrates clearly his improved efficiency by attacking the net and seizing the moment whenever the opportunity arises. Check out these timed videos to see how he transitions effectively.

 

https://youtu.be/fSVgdMjmVGQ?t=144 (Kei Nishikori yields a weak return with his serve, takes full advantage of it by hitting a forehand approach, and puts away the next ball with an easy volley)

https://youtu.be/fSVgdMjmVGQ?t=224 (Nishikori serves to Tomic’s backhand, sees that Tomic floats the ball back, Nishikori quickly sees the opportunity and comes in puts away the ball with a volley)

https://youtu.be/fSVgdMjmVGQ?t=334 (Nishikori throws down a big serve, Tomic as a result is stretched and can only put his racket out to float the ball back, Nishikori is quick to act on this and sets up a swinging volley followed with a volley winner)

https://youtu.be/fSVgdMjmVGQ?t=436 (Serve stretches Tomic outside. Nishikori knows that if Tomic were to get the serve back, his next shot will be even more damaging. Tomic does get the serve back so Nishikori is ready with a  backhand approach. He knows that the backhand approach will force a very weak return and so he will proceed to the net to end the point with a volley, and in this case it is an elegant drop volley.)

 

Nishikori, despite not having the biggest serve on tour, still has a very efficient serving game. He knows what does damage and is very well aware of how to best capitalize on weak shots. This is what all pros essentially know how to do and is what separates the level of tennis from college/juniors. Albeit having a great baseline game is heavily advocated, many tennis players tend to overlook how important having a transition game actually is, let alone possessing decent volleys.